As mayor of the nation’s 16th largest city, Jerry Abramson has plans to make Louisville one of the fittest and healthiest cities in the nation. Kentuckiana HealthFitness caught up with the mayor recently to discuss how he incorporates a healthy lifestyle into his busy schedule, and his plans for Louisville’s health and fitness future. He’s most assuredly a man who walks his talk, or should we say runs it?
Your schedule is a hectic one. Early morning breakfast meetings, luncheons, dinner engagements, how do you find time to stay fit and exercise?
It’s early in the morning, three miles in the dark with a reflective vest, running through Crescent Hill. It’s amazing in Crescent Hill how many people are out in the early morning…all sizes, all walks of life. I awaken at 6 a.m. – that’s when I get my exercise in.
How many days a week?
I try to do it five days a week, sometimes I’m lucky and get a sixth in. If I do, it’s generally on the week/files/storyimages/and I generally can pick up a four- or five-mile run. But invariably I’ll have a 7:30 a.m. breakfast, and that day I’m not running. So that means Saturday and Sunday are running days.
Do you do any other weight lifting or things like that?
No, I don’t. My wife, Madeline, goes over to the Jewish Community Center and works out several mornings a week… has recommended that I do something with my upper body, but I’m just a jogger. In fact I was a runner, when I ran the New York Marathon, then I became a jogger. And I guess now I’m sort of a “loper.”
Tell me about the New York Marathon.
I ran the New York Marathon in 1983 – trained with two fellows here in town throughout the entire summer and fall and went to New York and ran the marathon. It rained the whole time, which was a disappointment. I was prepared to do significantly better in terms of my time. But I didn’t do as well as I thought I should and I think a lot of it had to do with the rain…my socks were wet…I was cold.
Can I ask your time?
My time was under 4:00 hours, but just barely under 4:00. But I was prepared to do what I thought would be about a 3:35.
That takes some ability – to do a marathon in that time.
In those days, we decided to run our long runs on Tuesdays. So we’d get up at 3:30 in the morning, because it was so hot that you didn’t want to run your 17-18 miles in the heat. We would run 17 miles, and then come back, take a shower and go to work. Then about 4:00 in the afternoon, you’d close the door… (and take a nap).
So with regards to fitness, you consider yourself a runner?
Well, now that my son, Sid (who is in middle school), has gotten a little bit older, we do go bicycling, but more as a family recreation than as a get-out-and-get-after-it kind of thing. I’m one of those guys who marched in the band in high school…which means all those jocks whose knees now don’t work and hips don’t work…my hips and knees work just fine. So the fact that nothing hurts gives me the ability to get out every morning.
You talked about running in the New York Marathon, and you’ve run in several minis. Do you still run in any local events?
Louisville has a great schedule of races, although I don’t run in them. Nothing hurts, everything feels good, I have more t-shirts than I’ll ever be able to wear…I used to do them all. And so as result I do my thing in the morning, and applaud all those who are continuing to run races.
What about your diet?
I’m not a breakfast person. A cup of coffee is about all I’ll have, sometimes a quick bowl of cereal. Lunchtime I eat at my desk more often than not. It’ll be just a small sandwich or a small salad. Suppers I try to eat at home as much as I can. I try not to have the meal wherever I’m going to speak. I either go home first and have dinner with my family and then go back out, or simply go and give the speech thing and then go home and have dinner.
I got that tip way back in 1985 when I went to how-to-be-a-mayor’s school at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I teach there now, but at that time I was just elected. They have a section on labor negotiations, how to handle the press, how to build your staff, all those kinds of things. One of the speakers was the Governor of Massachusetts, a guy named Michael Dukakis. Michael came in and spoke to us and said that it was very important for him to have dinner with his wife and his two daughters and what he tried to do was tell his scheduler to tell the folks, ‘I’ll come and give my speech, but I’ll only be there for coffee and dessert.’ So he’d go home at 6 p.m. and have dinner with his family, and then he’d go back out. That is sort of a rule of thumb that I try to do. Sometimes I’m better at it than others, but it’s a good strategy.
The holidays are upon us. More functions, more food…
You just have to be able to have a “no thank you” helping, which is literally a sliver of cake or a cookie and not a dozen, which you’d love to eat. Down deep inside you realize that everything you’re going to eat you carry with you at 6 the next morning when you go to run.
I’m probably not as disciplined in food as I should be, but disciplined in running for sure. If it’s important to you, you’ll find the time.
You recently launched your Healthy Hometown Movement. Why did you feel it necessary for Louisville to take this step?
Well, when you look at the rates and statistics in this community on obesity, on diabetes, on heart-problems, you begin to realize that there are an awful lot of difficulties with health in this community, and individuals can do something about it for themselves. I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me, but if I can energize you to understand the importance of it…. This first aspect of our game plan is “Move It.” Come spring it’ll be “Lose It.” If I can create that kind of conscious awareness, our healthcare costs will go down, and hopefully we can get beyond the issues of heart problems, lung problems, diabetes and others that are our health department says are directly related to people’s lifestyles.
So we felt that this was something that we could engage. Really it’s an umbrella…because I’m not doing anything new that hasn’t been being done by multiple groups in our community. What we want to do is to put them under one umbrella and make sure that people know where they can connect to be able to get guidance and support to ensure that we are all coordinated and that our citizens and businesses will know where to go and how to connect.
What is your time frame before you’ll start to see results from this movement?
It’s a culture changing process that’s going to have to take some significant time. We had hoped to get a whopper of a federal grant that we competed for that would’ve allowed us to hit this with a much bigger buzz than we are able to do at this stage. But, we think that grant will come around again and we’ll be able to hopefully attract those funds to give us a boost.
You want Louisville to be one of the fittest and healthiest cities in America. Does this mean more biking and walking paths?
It’s interesting that you bring this up, because we have a bike summit coming up in February where we are drawing upon all the groups who are interested in expanded biking. With the bike summit we hope to do a bunch of things. One, we can be sure that we are on the right track and if there are other areas we need to look at, to look at. Number two, we need to be sure that we are focusing attention on safety. After Brad Swopes’ accident at Seneca, and others, we are trying to make sure we’re raising the consciousness of the community, both those of us who are riding bikes and those of us who are driving cars. We’re looking for areas where there are potential accident-prone intersections, like what we’re redoing at Seneca. We’re bringing all these folks together so that we’re sure we’re on track.
What I did with this budget that we are in today is put in funds to take the off-road bike path that begins at Farnsley-Moreman and ends around Cane Run Road into the next stretch which takes you to Mill Creek. In the next budget I hope to be able to jump Mill Creek and take it to connect with the River Walk, which will then pick up Chickasaw and Shawnee Parks and then take you all the way down to the Belvedere. At the same time, our folks are working with Oldham County, which has a Rails-to-Trails program, as to where they are going to bring that in to Louisville.
So ultimately, in answer to your question, we’re also looking at connecting the Olmstead Parks, because we have the parkways. The theory is how to connect Shawnee Park to Iroquois Park to Cherokee Park using Eastern Parkway, Southern Parkway, Southernwestern Parkway, Northwestern Parkway, etc.
Finally, we’ve put money in the budget this year to match the Federal grant to do the reengineering and architectural design on the Big Four Bridge. When the bridge is done, you’ll be able to go on the mound up to the bridge, go across, and down on the Indiana side. While we’re doing this over the next year or two, on the other side they are building a greenway from Jeffersonville to New Albany. We’re now talking about the K and I Bridge, which has been closed for years around 22nd street, to be able to open one of those sidewalk pathways to then bring people back onto the Riverwalk and back downtown. That’s a 17-mile ride.
We’ve been working with our colleagues, the mayors of Southern Indiana and the director of the greenway project, to be sure that if we do our thing they are doing theirs and we are in synch with each other. So I’m excited about that, too.
Laura Proctor is a local realtor who fits in listing appointments between writing assignments for KHF.